Tag Archives: satellite

Fleet Space SMB CubeSat

Adelaide startup’s Australian first CubeSats launch

The launch lays the foundation for free global connectivity for the industrial Internet of Things (IoT). According to Fleet Space Technologies co-founder and CEO Flavia Tata Nardini, the shoebox-sized Proxima I and II CubeSats are the first to be launched by the Australian private sector. And they lifted off only weeks after Tata Nardini reached out across the Tasman to ask Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck about working together to “untangle the bottleneck of space”.

The Australian and New Zealand Space Agencies, along with regulatory authorities on both sides of the pond, worked with the two startups to clear regulatory and licensing hurdles in record time.

“The speed was unbelievable,” Tata Nardini told create.

And the launch wasn’t the only speedy part of the process. The two Proxima CubeSats were built in six weeks.

“Nanosatellites can be built in weeks, with a little bit of improvement each time,” Tata Nardini explained.

The bulk of the Proxima manufacture took place in San Francisco with Pumpkin Space Systems. The payload — a radio that controls the satellite’s communications — was built by Fleet Space Technologies in Adelaide.

Big rockets, little satellites

The Proxima CubeSats are the first of a constellation of 100 nanosatellites that Fleet Space Technologies plans to launch into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) by 2022. Fleet will have two more nanosatellites in orbit during the coming weeks, with Centauri I on board SpaceX’s recently delayed Falcon 9 SSO-A mission scheduled to launch from the Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Centauri II will be hot on its heels, taking flight from an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) PSLV C43 launch vehicle on 27 November.

Tata Nardini said Centauri I will be among 71 CubeSats aboard the Falcon 9, and the media has reported that up to 30 small satellites will be on the ISRO rocket. The SpaceX and ISRO vehicles are considerably heftier than Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket — which is designed specifically for small payloads such as nanosatellites.

Flavia Tata Nardini of Fleet and Australia's space industry
Fleet Space Technologies CEO Flavia Tata Nardini.

“These are big rockets — it’s fascinating to see them dedicating some of their launches to CubeSats,” Tata Nardini added.

Aussie startup Gilmour Space Technologies is also vying to claim its place in the small launch market, and has recently been named in the New York Times as one of only six companies worldwide with the engineering expertise and funding to give Rocket Lab some healthy competition. According to CEO Adam Gilmour, their hybrid-fuelled rocketsare on track for the first commercial launch from Australian soil by 2020.

The next industrial revolution

Fleet’s mission is to “power the next industrial revolution” in sectors such as farming, mining, shipping and logistics. According to Tata Nardini, Fleet’s satellites will “grab the data” from devices in industry.

Last year, Tata Nardini explained to the Engineers Australia Applied IoT Community that industrial clients who purchased sensors, gateways or terminals containing the Fleet Space Technologies communications chip would have free access to Fleet’s satellite constellation.

Even before their first launch, Fleet started generating revenue by connecting customers using existing satellites operated by companies such as Iridium and Inmarsat.

“We’re selling all over the world, proving our IoT approach and how fast we can go with customers,” Tata Nardini said, adding that her company’s CubeSats will provide extra features and redundancy to connect millions of devices.

The real test is in space

The Proxima and Centauri satellites will be monitored in the months after launch to make sure they are working correctly. The Proxima CubeSats have been granted permission to operate in sought-after L-band frequencies, which are used for GPS as they can pass through clouds and tree cover.

The Proxima CubeSats were the first to be launched by the Australian commercial sector. (Image: Fleet Space Technologies)
The Proxima CubeSats were the first to be launched by the Australian commercial sector. (Image: Fleet Space Technologies)

Fleet is tracking the CubeSats twice a day when they pass over Adelaide. The window is tight — 180 seconds for each transit — but Tata Nardini said that their ground station is capable of meeting the challenge.

Tata Nardini said that the Fleet team had learned a lot through the process of designing and building their four satellites.

“Everything is new at the beginning. The more you do it, the more you own it,” Tata Nardini said.

– Nadine Cranenburgh

This article was originally published on create digital.

GPS

Why can’t my Uber find me?

It’s dizzying to contemplate: in the past decade, everything on our maps has moved by more than 1m, as Australia’s continental tectonic plate slides inexorably north at a rate of 7 cm a year.

“Geoscience Australia defines latitude and longitude for the country through the national Geocentric Datum, and last year we adjusted that by 1.5 m based on projections to 2020,” says Dr John Dawson, a geodetics expert who is the program manager of the CRC for Spatial Information (CRCSI) Positioning Program.

If you use the Uber ride-sharing app, you may have noticed its location accuracy is improving. Over the next few years, there will be a significant increase in this kind of precision.

Updating our latitude and longitude is just one stage of an overhaul of Australia’s mapping and positioning systems, which currently rely heavily on overseas-run spatial infrastructure.

“Precision in latitude and longitude is becoming very important as new positioning technologies with finer accuracy come online,” says Dawson. “For example, if I measure the location of a pipe using a device with 10 cm accuracy, then come back a year later to dig in that location, then relative to latitude and longitude, it would look like that pipe had moved.”

Currently, positioning in Australia has accuracy between 5m and 10m. Trials are now underway on satellite technology with the potential to upgrade that location accuracy to less than 10 cm.

“With applications such as self-driving cars, 5 m of accuracy can put your vehicle on the wrong side of the road,” explains Dawson.

Cross sector and cross-ditch collaboration

Satellite positioning technology has revolutionised our lives, influencing everything from air transport to agriculture, and real estate to retail.

All of these are set to change dramatically in coming years as improved precision makes so many more applications possible.

The CRCSI’s Positioning Program research stream is part of the next era in satellite positioning, trialling three new technologies that will all potentially contribute to a Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) for the Australasian region.

The trials involve cross-industry collaboration with more than 30 organisations. They are funded by a $12 million contribution from the Australian Government, plus another NZ$2 million from the New Zealand government, and aim to establish a nationwide, high-accuracy, real-time positioning infrastructure.

The CRCSI estimates that updating our national positioning infrastructure will add an estimated 1.1–2.1% to Australia’s GDP by 2030, through productivity gains in mining, construction and agriculture. Benefits will also be widespread across tourism, transport and emergency services.

“We’ve taken GPS for granted in Australia as something provided as a global public infrastructure by the US, and we’ve accrued value as positioning improves efficiency and drives new products and services,” says Dawson.

The new technologies being trialled will enable precise positioning for a fraction of the cost of currently available commercial services. Providing it as public infrastructure will also reap productivity benefits dwarfing the initial investment.

Three technologies under trial

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is the world’s best known satellite-based navigation system and comprises a ‘constellation’ of 24 communications craft orbiting Earth.

Designed in the 1970s for military applications and funded by the US government, GPS is now accessed by billions of devices worldwide.

In 2020, Europe’s Galileo system, supported by 30 satellites, will become fully operational, improving location accuracy for applications across the planet.

While most of Australia’s satellite positioning currently relies on GPS, users in the USA, Europe, China, Russia, India and Japan are already using the more precise first-generation SBAS technology on a daily basis.

Geoscience Australia has partnered with global technology companies GMV, Inmarsat and Lockheed Martin to trial satellite technologies, and CRCSI is managing a range of industry projects trialling sector-based applications.

Under trial are first-generation SBAS, switched on in June 2017; second-generation SBAS, which came online in September 2017; and Precise Point Positioning, turned on in October 2017. These technologies combine satellite signals with ground stations.

Australia was the first country to transmit second-generation SBAS signals, and the first to trial Precise Point Positioning corrections integrated into an SBAS service.

Fran Molloy

Elias Aboutanios space invaders satellite

Space invaders: Mini satellite swarm

Don’t be fooled by the diminutive size of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat. This 1.8kg miniature satellite may be small, but the team who built it have high ambitions.

The miniature satellite is part of the European-led QB50 mission to explore Earth’s least understood atmospheric layer: the thermosphere. Built by a team at Sydney’s Australian Centre
for Space Engineering Research (ACSER), the satellite was deployed, along with a constellation of 35 other cubesats, from the International Space Station in June 2017.

The thermosphere, between 200 and 380km above Earth, is a region vital for communications and weather formation and helps shield Earth from radiation from the Sun and harsh cosmic rays – a region where temperatures can hit 2,500˚C (4,500˚F). It’s here auroras form their flickering curtains of light, and where ultraviolet and X-ray radiation from the Sun can cause potentially catastrophic solar storms that can knock out power grids and communications. Yet until now, the region has been largely uncharted.  

The objective of the QB50 project, led by Belgium’s Von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics and involving 28 nations, is to understand the atomic composition of this region. UNSW-EC0 carries a miniaturised Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer that will collect measurements useful for weather modelling and prediction. 

“This is the most extensive exploration of the lower thermosphere ever, collecting measurements in the kind of detail never before tried,” says Elias Aboutanios, UNSW-EC0’s project leader. “The satellites will operate for three to nine months – and may stay up for up to a year – before their orbits decay and they re-enter the atmosphere and burn up.”

As it drifts lower, the satellite will measure various points of the thermosphere and send the data to a global network of ground stations.

The ACSER team packed other unique experiments aboard UNSW-EC0. It carries UNSW’s new Namuru space-borne GPS, much more accurate thanks to higher-resolution positioning, which is needed in space, especially for formation flying of satellites planned for the future.

Another technology being tested is the seL4bit SBC, a super reliable capability-based software microkernel developed at UNSW; and the RUSH Field-Programmable Gate Array, a robust chip designed to self-correct errors caused by random cosmic rays in space, which can scramble today’s computer chips. It is designed to self-correct errors and allow rapid recovery from a glitch without shutting down or stopping what it is doing, and is a novel, and potentially valuable, approach being tested in space for the first time.

In another first, the team 3D-printed the satellite’s metal-coated thermoplastic skin, in a new process dubbed RAMSES (Rapid Manufacture of Space-Exposed Structures). This allows for greater customisation, while both speeding up the production rate and lowering costs, says technical lead Joon Wayn Cheong. If UNSW-EC0 holds up and performs as planned, the 3D-printed cubesat could be the model for future, more ambitious designs.

Eyes on the sky

Three Australian cubesats were built for the QB50 project, two of them at ACSER, and they are the first satellites made locally in 15 years. But there are likely to be many more.

“It’s an example of the philosophy behind ‘Space 2.0’, where the big expensive agency-driven satellites are being replaced by disruptive low-cost access to space,” says Andrew Dempster, Director of ACSER.

Its other QB50 cubesat was INSPIRE-2, developed jointly with the University of Sydney and Canberra’s Australian National University. This cubesat will measure the plasma density and electron temperature in the thermosphere.

“The QB50 mission is an opportunity to show what we can do at ACSER,” adds Dempster.

ACSER is also a partner in Biarri, a cubesat mission for the Five Eyes intelligence alliance of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK and the USA, to explore cubesat formation flying, verify the performance of UNSW’s Namuru GPS receivers and improve electro-optic systems used for precision orbital tracking. And ACSER is a global leader in the emerging field of off-Earth mining, holding annual forums at which international participants explore how to mine space for water and minerals. It has constructed risk-based financial and technical models to evaluate multiple space-borne mining scenarios, and developed optimised mining systems to extract water on Mars.

Read about the five steps Australia can take to build an effective space agency here.

Finding space industry’s next Elon Musk

 

Crew Dragon pad abort test, part of the December 2015 mission. Credit SpaceX

Speakers at the 2016 Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program Space and Entrepreneurism public event in Adelaide on January 28 have highlighted the challenges and opportunities on offer in the space industry.

Alex Grant, whose South Australian company Myriota is developing tiny devices to transmit data to and from remote locations, said finding commercially competitive ways to solve people’s problems was vital.

“If you can solve people’s problems at a price point they are willing to pay then that’s when you start getting investment, that’s when you start getting customers,” he said.

Flavia Tata Nardini, a former European Space Agency propulsion engineer, moved to Adelaide before founding Launchbox in 2014 to change the way people understood space science.

She has since also founded Fleet, which aims to use a constellation of low orbit satellites to bring cheap internet connections to the developing world.

Building a space industry

“Entrepreneurship is adventure and it’s a really hard adventure,” she told the audience at the University of South Australia’s Mawson Centre.

“You have to have an idea and then you have to make it happen … the only way you can do this is to understand where are the troubles … what is it that people need.

“For me it was a personal thing. When I arrived in Australia I thought I wanted to see that in 20 years everybody loved space, everybody was studying space.

“Launchbox is now a two-year-old company and it’s going great … I’ve seen so many students coming to me saying I want to study aerospace and be a space engineer because of you guys and that’s a very big achievement.”

Tata Nardini said the goal with Fleet was to provide internet for people all over the world who could not afford to pay more than $2 a month.

“To find investors we have learned to pitch what problem we are solving,” she said. “The problem we are solving is giving internet at very low cost to 3 billion people who are currently not connected.”

She said besides the strength to never give up, entrepreneurs need “a good analysis of what is out there, a good understanding of the problem you are trying to solve and a bit of luck.”

Brett Burford is the founder of AU Launch Services, an Adelaide-based consulting group that works with CubeSat manufacturers, owners and operators and serves as a single point of contact for clients.

Burford said finding the right niche required by the market was his key to establishing in the space industry.

“This is a million miles away from the first pre-conceived idea that I had but sometimes you just have to let go and say what does the market really need,” he said.

“You also need to understand the whole picture. There are regulatory issues, there are politics, there are a whole number of other factors that impact what you do.

“We really need to understand there is a market and we need to find out what the market needs are and realize we are not a space company, we provide services that require elements from space and that is the underpinning of what a space industry is.”

The next Elon Musk

Burford said global entrepreneurs in recent years like SpaceX founder Elon Musk had “brought space down closer to us than it has ever been”.

“And the closer that we feel to space the more we feel like maybe we can have some impact in that,” he said.

“When I first started looking into the space industry I came across a shortcut … what is the quickest way to become a space millionaire  … to be a billionaire and start investing in space.

“But luckily things are changing.”

First published on The Lead South Australia.